About 30 members of the North Dakota National Guard are now working around the clock, in the background of the state’s COVID-19 response effort.
Although this is a totally new call to duty for many of them, they’ve been ready and training for worst-case scenarios their entire careers.
After 14 years in the Guard, Maj. Karl Altenburg says this is one of those rare occasions where his full scope of training is put into action.
“Within domestic operations, we plan for (and that’s specifically what I do)…plan for emergencies,” shared Maj. Altenburg, the Future Operations Plans Officer in Domestic Operations for the North Dakota National Guard.
On Tuesday, Gov. Doug Burgum activated the Workforce Coordination Center, which Maj. Altenburg is a big part of.
The “Center” doesn’t have a physical location. Instead, it involves meetings like this one, online, with several state agencies. Job Service North Dakota is at the helm.
“They are helping collect the names of volunteers, workers and businesses that need workers,” Altenburg explained.
Then it’s all put into a database that can be available to help as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses in North Dakota.
“We are approaching about 400 people who have responded to the call. Some of them are retired medical professionals: nurses and doctors, people who have retired from the military. But in addition to retired people, we have people who are currently not working because their businesses that they had previously worked at closed down,” Maj. Altenburg added.
But the majority of National Guard soldiers involved in the response have a more “boots-on-the-ground” role.
Instead of reporting to Fraine Barracks, Maj. Aaron Norgaard is reporting to the Department of Health’s State Lab instead, every day.
The State Public Health Lab Liaison and Medical Operations Officer for the 81st Civil Support Team shared, “Just remember we’re in the community too, we’re here to help.”
If you’ve been tested for the coronavirus, chances are it was a member of the North Dakota National Guard who brought the supplies to your doctor, and then, took them back to the lab to be tested.
Maj. Norgaard says the Department of Health has increased testing by ten-fold, so they just need some extra logistical support on the ground. He says it’s all in an effort to lessen the load for biologists and other lab employees, many of whom are working from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
The hope is for the lab to do more soon.
“As soon as we get additional techs on board, we’ll be doing 24-hour operations, as long as we have the capabilities. We have brand new machines that we just got, came in,” added Maj. Norgaard.
At the end of the day, Guard members say their job every day is to protect public safety, and aid state agencies in whatever way is needed at the time.
“What is normal and what to expect with the National Guard is a tricky question because we’re always ready, we’re always there, and we’re always ready to respond in whatever roles we’re placed in,” Maj. Altenburg responded.
He says if you find yourself asking how you can help in the pandemic response, volunteering with the Workforce Coordination Center is at the top of the list.
If you would like to sign up with the Workforce Coordination Center to lend your skills during this crisis, or as a business or individual that needs help CLICK HERE, or call the Job Service Workforce Center at 701-328-0400.